Florida COVID surge getting worse as groups gather for Christmas

A health care worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine in Washington in 2021 during last winter's COVID surge.
A health care worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine in Washington in 2021 during last winter's COVID surge.
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The latest coronavirus wave shows no signs of slowing down as families across Florida and the nation gather for Christmas this weekend, indoors and unmasked, few of them up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations.

Statewide COVID hospitalizations hover at three-month highs, driven by offshoots of the virus' omicron variant. Less than one in 10 eligible Floridians has received the latest shots designed for omicron subvariants.

Medical facilities tended to 1,897 COVID-positive patients this past week, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department said Thursday. That's the highest level since Sept. 21.

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Just 9% of Florida residents ages 5 and older have gotten the latest Pfizer and Moderna shots, federally approved in late August and built for the omicron subvariants that account for all recent infections. The national average is 14%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

Two federal studies released last week, which examined the vaccine status of thousands of COVID patients nationwide, found that the latest booster is much more effective at protecting its recipients from hospitalization than for those who are unvaccinated or have had only the first two shots.

Still, immunity from past COVID boosters, shots and infection appears to be keeping the worst of the disease at bay.

While hospitalizations today are higher than 12 months ago, the number of COVID patients in intensive care units is lower. Medical facilities logged more than 300 of them during the week leading up to Christmas Day in 2021. This week, that number has yet to reach 240 as it rises.

And the CDC does not yet think that hospitalizations and caseloads have become high enough to recommend indoor masking in any Florida county to prevent strain on local medical systems.

Where to get free at-home COVID tests

Many COVID cases go unreported in official statistics as many people have turned to at-home testing. And President Joe Biden's administration is offering free tests to those who order online at covid.gov/tests. Official test results show the current wave will continue to grow.

More than 15% of tests statewide came back positive during the seven days ending Dec. 18, the CDC said Thursday, the highest level since early September. Health officials logged more than 19,000 cases in the past week, a nearly three-month high.

COVID has infected more than 7.3 million Floridians and killed more than 83,000.

Chris Persaud is The Palm Beach Post's data reporter. Email him at cpersaud@pbpost.com. Click @ChrisMPersaud and follow him on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: COVID surge still raging as families get closer for Christmas